I recently attended a great training at Fairfax County’s Health & P.E in-service on UDL, a term I first heard a couple of months ago and it was nice to learn more. In this post I try to explain what UDL is and share some of the resources that were shared with me at the training.
For students with disabilities, physical education can often seem limiting rather than empowering. Traditional PE classes frequently don’t account for diverse needs and abilities. But adapted physical education (APE) aims to change that by making PE accessible and beneficial for all students. And by integrating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into APE, educators can further transform these programs into inclusive, dynamic learning environments.
What is Universal Design for Learning?
UDL is an educational framework centered on flexibility and accessibility. It provides multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression to cater to different learning styles and needs. Rather than making accommodations as an afterthought, UDL calls for proactively designing instruction to support diverse learners from the very start. Offering options for how information is presented, how students can interact with content, and how they can share their comprehension allows for meaningful participation for all.
Applying UDL to Adapted PE
There are several key ways UDL can be incorporated into APE:
- Providing diverse sensory cues (visual, auditory, tactile) to convey instructions
- Offering a range of physical activities tailored to interests and abilities
- Allowing students to demonstrate skills through various methods, not just traditional testing
- Promoting social integration and belonging by enabling all students to participate
UDL allows APE instructors to tap into each student’s unique strengths and motivations. Activities can be adapted to align with both individual and collective goals. Assessment also becomes more equitable as non-traditional measures allow students to showcase growth.
The UDL Guidelines Graphic Organizer (below) from CAST provides a visual overview of key UDL principles broken into three networks: Affective Networks covering the “why” of learning through engagement options, Recognition Networks dealing with the “what” of learning via representation options, and Strategic Networks addressing the “how” of learning through action and expression options. Within each network, the graphic lists guidelines and checkpoints (numbered 1-9) that offer options for recruiting interest, supporting comprehension, and facilitating physical actions and more. This tool serves as a UDL reference outlining flexible engagement, representation, and action options to optimize teaching and learning.
The below pdf chart from OpenPhysed.org outlines various UDL adaptations across four key domains – equipment, rules, environment, and instruction – that teachers can implement to meet the diverse needs of all students.
- Fosters inclusivity and belonging
- Enables customization of curriculum
- Develops holistic skills beyond physical ones
- Instills confidence and appreciation for lifelong fitness
UDL ultimately transforms APE into a dynamic environment where every student can thrive. By implementing it thoughtfully, instructors can unlock their students’ full potential, regardless of any challenges they face. UDL provides a pathway to make PE genuinely empowering and accessible for all.